portrait of Stuart Firestein

Stuart Firestein

Columbia University

Stuart Firestein is professor of neuroscience at Columbia University. His research focuses on the vertebrate olfactory system. He completed his Ph.D. in neurobiology with Frank Werblin at the University of California, Berkeley in 1987, where he elucidated the electrophysiological characteristics of olfactory sensory neurons. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University with Gordon Shepherd, where he continued his pharmacological investigations of olfactory coding, asking how the olfactory system detects and discriminates a remarkably large and diverse set of chemical compounds that we call odors. He became assistant professor at Yale in 1990, and in 1991 he joined the faculty of the biology department at Columbia University as associate and later full professor. During his 25-year tenure at Columbia, he has received continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health and has received Whitehead and McKnight Foundation Awards.

Dedicated to promoting the accessibility of science to a public audience, Firestein serves as an adviser for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s program for the Public Understanding of Science, where he reviews scripts for the Ensemble Studio Theatre/Sloan Science and Technology Program, and for the Tribeca and Hamptons International Film Festivals. In 2011, he received the Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for excellence in scholarship and teaching. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. At Columbia, he is on the advisory boards of the Center for Science and Society and the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience — both centers for interdisciplinary work between the sciences and the humanities. His book on the workings of science for a general audience, “Ignorance, How It Drives Science,” was released by Oxford University Press in 2012. His second book, “Failure: Why Science Is So Successful,” appeared in October 2015. They have been translated into 12 languages.

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